Thursday, July 18, 2013

A New Perspective: At Flat Creek Estate

Sean and I took time to visit two wineries in one day. One of those wineries was Flat Creek Estate. We had been here a few times in the past, but were often left a bit unsatisfied. We hadn't been back in over two years, and we weren''t sure when we would make our way further up 281. After some recent tastings at wine events, a Texas Wine Twitter Tuesday tasting, and some chatting on social media with recent Flat Creek winemaker Tim Drake, I thought it was time to head back and give them another try.

Me and Flat Creek

This is a winery with a back story, at least for me; it was one of the first Texas wineries I visited. Sometimes when we would visit my grandparents in nearby Lago Vista (they lived around 20 minutes from the winery), we would stop in. Our first visit with my parents, I think in 2007 or 2008. We made a few other visits, 2010 and 2011, I believe. At those times, we really weren't impressed. The wine always tasted a bit off, maybe a bit overproduced. The wine often left an odd aftertaste. But my dad was a huge fan, so I would go back and try again, hoping it was just the last visit or things had changed. It really didn't. That was until recently.
Lake Travis Hill Country at Flat Creek Estates
One of the earlier Texas Wine Twitter Tuesdays featured a Moscato from Flat Creek. I was leery, but was soon enjoying the crisp sweetness of the wine. During that night, I got a chance to ask a few questions of winemaker Tim Drake. I was growing curious. Then Flat Creek was present at Culinaria. I tasted a few of the wines I hadn't had and found them different from the last time I had been at the winery. By the end of the night, I was friends with Tim on Facebook. I was now hooked, and I had to find a time to visit.

Before I get to the visit I have to share an odd side note. Sean and I are amused by the fact that the winemaker is Tim Drake. There is a Batman character with the same name; the second Robin (after iconic Dick Grayson). On our trip out to Flat Creek we couldn't quite help but laugh: Robin was going to Tim Drake's winery. I know, its only funny to comic book geeks.

On Sean's and my recent visit, I had hoped to meet up with Tim, but that didn't happen on the Saturday we came. Instead, owner Madelyn Naber oversaw our tasting and gave us a tour. Everyone at the tasting room was friendly and knowledgeable. I was able to learn a bit more about the current wines and get a fresh perspective on where the winery finds itself at in 2013.

Sean & I in the barrel room

News, Trivia, and Info

There was some neat trivia and info I learned about Flat Creek. Right now, the winery is renting space to a new beverage maker. Mead is currently being made at Flat Creek for sale at different Renaissance festivals; it is nice to see another Texas winery helping someone else out. And like many others, they don't have every piece of equipment in-house. For bottling, they actually rent a truck; I have heard of a number of wineries doing this. Bottling machines and lines are expensive. In addition, the less expensive ones are labor intensive (I should know after volunteering for Hilmy back in March). It is no wonder they just rent when they need to.

There are a number of trends they are working with as well. For one, they are using a variety of fermentation tanks. Though steel tanks made up most of the number, there is some concrete in use; they are embracing a new trend here. In addition, they sell a few wines by the keg and as a growler. Right now, it is mainly just a few whites, especially white blends. Also, they are moving towards screw tops for whites. Their decision here was taste. With a screw top, the wine can taste the same as it did in the tank, retaining the intended flavor. The other cool note was their blending procedure with the whites; they actually blend in a single tank, layering one wine upon another. I found this interesting, and the tank huge.
A variety of tanks, including blending tank (large one in the back)

During our tour and visit to the barrel room, we learned a bit more. While sneaking around the barrel room, notating barrels from all over -- France, US, Hungary -- I mainly took notice of the wine and where the grapes came from.  Among the Texas grapes, I saw major grape growers like Newsom and Reddy Vineyards and Andy Timmons' Lost Draw Vineyards alongside Flat Creek Estate Sangiovese and Frio Canyon grapes. I left the barrel room thirsty all over again.

The barrel room -- Lost Draw Vineyards Tempranillo


Our tasting was more extensive than most -- Madelyn kept letting us try wines not available to the general public (wine club only) as well as ones that are nearly gone. Of those we tried the 2010 Tempranillo; it was a nice blend of minerals and fruit. We also tried the 2009 Pinotage (made from California grapes). This small quantity wine is no longer available, but a 2010 is one its way. We found this wine to have an enticing character; it blended the fruit and earthier tones well. Sean commented that this wine could make a nice port.

During out tasting we had the older 2011 Viognier. The 2012, which I tasted at Culinaria, won the bronze at an international wine competition in Lyon, France (alongside Becker's silver and Pedernales Grand Gold). The 2011 is a silky wine with strong citrus fruits, especially grapefruit, while the 2012 is more subtle. Along with Viognier, I tasted the 2010 Muscato Blanco, which had a very sweet nose that ended in a sticky sweet taste; it started with softer fruits, like peach, and ended very citrusy (orange specifically). I also had the Mistella, a dessert style Muscat that was orange from the start. This wine was made subtle and soft by the addition of ice and was paired well with dark chocolate.

The tasting room bar; award winning wins and medals on the right

The afternoon's reds included the well known Super Texan (2010), The 2009 Syrah, 2008 Meritage, 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, and the Port  IV.  The Super Texan is bold on flavors -- earth, spice, oak, and dark fruit -- and yet the mouth feel is light and soft. The Syrah's biggest strength was the tannins that did not stand out but instead accentuate the fruit. The Meritage is highlighted by its oakiness. The wine is a natural progression from fruit to oak. The Cab was a nice balance of fruit and oak. And the port was a ruby style that tasted more like wine than a strong tawny; it was soft and not overly sweet.

Vineyards behind the winery

During our visit we didn't get a chance to eat at the Bistro -- for next time -- but we did end our visit, after our a tour and a bit of wandering in awe in the barrel room, roaming the grounds. This is a beautiful place. I have always held a soft spot for the area; every summer I spent a week or so with my grandparents. The hills that jut and drop away out here, covered in trees and full of wildlife, have always seemed to me like an oasis. The vineyards stretching out and away from Flat Creek work nicely among what was already here. I can see why visitors flock here to escape and drink good Texas wine.

A New Perspective
I always think of golf courses, green
even in the drought and heat of summer,
and the sun sparkling from the lake.
Often, I stared out from the porch
from the house on Madison Cove, 
looking down and out, towards a world 
just out of reach. Below my feet
the Texas scrub and cacti gathered, 
shelter for the deer, skunks, rabbits,
and whatever else would wander 
and scavenge through the yard.
The wind would whistle by
punctuated by hummingbird wings
and the call of the Bobwhite quail.
View of Lago Vista, 5/2010
Estate Vineyards @ Flat Creek, 6/2013

Now, I see the hills rolling away green
with vines and grapes, settling
into this landscape from my childhood. 
I imagine the deer nosing close and the sniffing
noses of skunks as they come through,
only to find their quarry protected 
by shear netting. And from this view, 
I can imagine where Lake Travis sits --
low and sullen from drought -- and barely 
a sparkle visible when it catches the sun;
instead, I see a soft purple gleam
and a light golden twinkle from the sun
slipping through wine glasses.
And I still hear the wind whistle,
a rustle of leaves and soft bird song
drifting along this new vista.

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